Everyone in Kentucky knows what five o’clock means. It means it’s time for Andy.
Andy, of course, is Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a mild mannered Democrat who defeated incumbent Matt Bevin in November by only 5,000 votes in a heavily red state. At the time, I wrote in The Spectator why that happened, but it certainly didn’t hurt that his father was the two-term governor before Bevin.
Likely no governor in the nation has thrived the way Andy Beshear has during this time of pandemic lockdowns. Every day, seven days a week, Beshear speaks to Kentuckians from the state Capitol at 5 o’clock. His presentations have been compared to fireside chats and he to Mister Rogers. Salon even did an article about Andy as sex symbol in a riff on a Reddit post in which an enamored Kentuckian wrote of Beshear, ‘Govern me, daddy.’
You can buy a ‘Govern me, daddy’ t-shirt, of course. And also a ‘5 O’Clock Beers With Beshear’ t-shirt (with matching koozie). There are mugs and a wide array of other merch.
Like any successful TV series, the Daily Andy Show has a popular supporting cast. There’s Virginia, who translates Andy’s briefing into sign language. She has her own ice cream flavor called ‘Virginia S’Moore’. There’s also Kenneth the Slide Guy, a mystery figure, off-camera but omnipresent. He also has a t-shirt and an ice cream flavor. And don’t miss the Andy-themed donuts.
Andy has his own catch phrases, too. ‘You can’t be doing that,’ is his most famous, an avuncular scold used for flea markets and bingo halls that operated in defiance of his executive order to shut down. Yes, there’s a t-shirt for that, too.
The Beshear Moment has been helped by the contrast to his predecessor Matt Bevin, a brusque businessman whose diplomatic skills make Trump seem like Metternich. Bevin tweeted of the early pandemic response on March 11, ‘Chicken Little has just confirmed that the sky IS indeed falling….’ It was like a scripted setup for the Mayberry-like concern of Beshear, who repeats a mantra at the beginning of each briefing (and insists we repeat it with him), ‘We will get through this. We will get through this together.’
But despite the rave reviews and sky-high ratings, not all is perfect in Governor Andy’s Neighborhood. Not everyone was thrilled when Beshear told Kentuckians not to visit Tennessee, a state with a nearly 400-mile shared border with Kentucky. Beshear took some veiled shots at Tennessee’s shutdown not being up to Kentucky’s standards. And if you visit another state the governor has ordered a 14-day quarantine upon your return. (The Tennessee take has not aged well as Kentucky’s COVID-19 deaths have now surpassed Tennessee.)
Beshear has worked hard to craft a non-political, non-partisan image. But the reality is he is managing a red state with a decidedly blue state approach, and it is starting to catch up with him.
Beshear won election by a razor thin margin where every other state-wide elected official from Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to Attorney General Daniel Cameron and Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles is a Republican. The now-out of session legislature is heavily Republican. Trump is wildly popular and will easily win Kentucky by double digits.
Beshear’s non-partisan bona fides are also pretty thin and newly embraced. Former Gov. Matt Bevin and the Beshears ran a red hot four-year political feud. Bevin clearly hated his predecessor, and Andy Beshear’s father, Gov. Steve Beshear. Bevin consistently held up Steve Beshear as an emblem of Kentucky’s version of swamp-style politics. Then-Attorney General Andy Beshear sued Governor Bevin seemingly twice a day before breakfast during their co-extensive terms, challenging the Bevin agenda every step of the way. Beshear the Younger essentially maintained a government in waiting in the Attorney General’s office, and his campaign to challenge Bevin was a foregone conclusion.
Beshear also is actively pro-choice in a heavily pro-life state, and has kept open Kentucky’s abortion clinic while closing all other non-essential medical procedures. On the way out the door of the legislative session, the GOP legislature sent a ‘Born Alive’ bill to Beshear, which he predictably vetoed, but that the legislature could not overturn. (Beshear had openly, and conveniently, complained that the legislature shouldn’t even be meeting during the lockdown and just let him handle it.)
Like other governors, Beshear closed down churches along with any other mass gatherings. Closing churches is a big deal in Kentucky where church attendance is high, and church loyalty higher. But it was a particular focus of Beshear because multiple coronavirus cases were traced to church meetings in March. ‘You can’t be doing that,’ Daddy Andy intoned.
As Easter approached, some Kentucky churches made rumblings of having in-person services. Beshear responded by threatening to send in the police to record license plates of attendees then have them served with 14-day quarantine orders. It was a story that exploded nationally, and one that was a blow to his non-partisan image. Having the police prowl a church parking lot to record license plates on Easter morning certainly raised the hackles of many Kentuckians who otherwise were complying with Beshear’s ‘healthy at home’ order.
Beshear clearly wasn’t prepared for the protests that hit the Capitol three days later. During his five o’clock briefing approximately 100 protesters showed up, shouting outside the windows to the Capitol, audible during Beshear’s television stream. The next day soundproofing was installed in the windows. Protesters were told they could only protest in their cars at a parking deck that happened to be outside of earshot. It was for their own coronavirus safety, of course. But many recalled a megaphone toting then-Attorney General Andy Beshear leading protesting teachers against Bevin inside the Capitol rotunda only months before.
Sensing the political winds finally were shifting, the Republican state constitutional officers issued a joint statement that defended the legislature’s right to meet and exercise their constitutional duty, a response to Beshear’s grumblings about their interference during an emergency. It was a mild statement, and clearly meant to test the waters. It also served a warning to Beshear that there were limits.
Beshear has now begun a slow-walk process of opening up the Commonwealth, a process he indicates will last at least into June. ‘Other states can rush this. We’re going to do it smart,’ Beshear jabbed in Monday’s briefing. ‘Things are going to look different until we get a vaccine,’ Beshear added as he issued a new requirement for the public wearing of masks starting May 11.
Kentuckians are starting to wonder how long that ‘different’ will last, and what Beshear will do if that vaccine never comes. When will ‘Andy time’ end?
Alan Cornett is a writer in Lexington, Kentucky
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